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What is a Memory? (June 23, 2005)

Posted on 2005.07.05 at 08:30
Current Music: Asu he no Basho ~Hagaren Song File (Ed)
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So exactly what are memories? How do we know if they're real, or for that matter that we are real and not just part of someone else's fantasy? When we are young, our memories are made up of what we are told. We don't remember our first words, our first steps, what foods we like or what our favorite toy was. Those memories are created by others' experiences with us. Who is to say that those memories are true? They could shape them however they wished and we would accept them without question. Only when we are older would we question what we were told. But don't those memories help shape us as a young child and give us a guide with which we learn to live by? I don't drink milk because I always hated it. I don't know why I hate spiders, even as a young child I was terrified of them. Could we not have been conditioned to react to situations based upon those fake memories? And when do our memories become our own? Even if we break free of the boundaries are past has set for us, how do we know that what we are experiencing is real? We tend to see things from our own perspective, but what about the other? If they truly share in the experience, are memory is not complete for it is only part and not the whole. If that's the case, how can we say that it is true? That it happened exactly as we believe? Not to mention the creation of completely ficticious memories. Even if you and another person remember the same thing, but differently, how do you know the truth? We hold onto memories as pieces of ourselves and yet there is perhaps no other facet of ourselves that we allow others to influence so greatly. If the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, who is it then that see the whole memory? Does such a person exist? Or are we destined to be confined by our own experiences unable to see beyond? If we are...are we no more than figments of another's memory?

I suppose here is where your belief on the soul comes into play. If we have a soul, our memories and who we are could be anchored there, but if you believe we are all part of the same entity (for lack of a better word--English is a difficult language to describe this in), we truly would just be pieces of the greater memory. If that was the case, how do we define what is real? If you believe we have no soul, we are just chemical evolutionary beings walking this planet, what use do the memories aside from those strictly for survival provide? It would not suit evolution to have emotions and memories that caused the death of our species or deep seated pain from abuse or thoughts to ponder our existance. We would be no more than animals, remembering what was necessary to survive. Then again, there are examples of animals acting rather like humans.

Still many of those experiences can be explained...are humans the same way? A snake remembers its last meal, a bird remembers where was a good place to nest, a dog remembers the sound of food being set down...but are these memories are simply conditioned responses? If that is so then, why is does the bird sing when it hears your voice and not others? How come in a group of people, it would choose you to sit on? How come the dog brings you what it found in the yard rather than keeping it for itsself? How come the animal so easily accepts you into their family when we, as intelligent humans, cannot even accept each other based upon such subtle differences as race, culture, etc.? To me it would seem the animals are more evolved than us in that respect...or at the very least more adaptable. It leads me to the question of what exactly are we?

Human, a biological being that is above animalistic instincts--in most cases. Is that it? Is that really all we are? If that's it why would we remember swinging from a tree in our friend's front yard as a kid? Why would we want to remember that we spit out peas as a baby? What is the importance of our first words? Of what use are these memories? They do not help us to survive, but some would say they make us more human? So then, do we shape our children's memories so that they appear human and fit into society? If we were to take any child and give them these memories of childhood, despite age or how they grew up, would they be able to survive in society? (Barring the death of certain neural pathways in the brain.) If we do that, how do we know that our own memories are true? They would just be what our parents thought we needed to have a typical childhood. After all, those who decide what they teach to us control our experiences. Perhaps what we learn is up to us, but aren't we conditioned to work towards the desired result--to fit in soceity? HOW you fit in is up to your parents. Often times people fit in the same way their parents did. That would make sense if they shape our memories and experiences that we would be similar. However, what about the ones that break from that? For some, the parents wanted a better life, for others the pain was too great so they leave that life behind, and for others there is apparently no reason. As if they were just born different. For those that leave their life behind...can you really forget or change memories? If you convince yourself something is true or untrue, does that change the reality of it? Even if the rest of the world remembers it differently...isn't that how memories are? If so, your perspective is not wrong. But say you remember no abuse but you still bear the bruise...so which is true? Your memory or the bruise? In your mind, you don't remember it, so you are not affected by it, but your body has a bruise and must heal from it. Which one is the true memory...your mind or your body? Often times our body acts on its own memory...a reflex. Is there then a physical memory and a mental memory separate of each other? And which is the one to trust? The body may tell you undeniable facts, but mentally you can overcome many physical hardships. What a perplexing situation.

Do our memories make us human? Does that mean animals do not have memories? Or do they just have physical memories, while we have mental ones? What is the use of mental memories? We contemplate our mortality and who we are...but are the answers within or without? Can we find the answers in each other or only in our solitude? Life seems to tell us both, but how do you reconcile the differences? How do you discover the truth behind your past? How can you be sure that your memories are real? That they actually happened? And that they are yours and not what someone told you?

kono kioku ga omoide ga If these memories and recollections
honto no mono janai toshitara Aren't real things
ima koko no iru kono boku wa Then who in the world is this me
ittai dare nano? Who is here now?

kono sekai ga kono subete ga If this world and everything
dareka ga tsukutta sekai nara Are a world that someone created
ima koko ni iru kono boku wa Then what in the world is this me
ittai nandaro Who is here now?

sora mukai toikaketemo Even if I faced and asked the sky
kotae koko ni wa nai The answer isn't here
boku wa ima koko ni iru I am here now

~boku wa kokoni iru, Rei Kugiyima from Fullmetal Alchemist

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